From Small-Town Roots to Big Pride Performances: How Michigan Shaped Wreckno's Musical Queerness

The gender-fluid DJ, rapper and electro-pop star headlines Ferndale Pride on June 1

Growing up in the small town of Manistee in northern Michigan, Brandon Wisniski, better known by their stage name Wreckno, didn’t have much of a queer community. At least not until the genderfluid, genre-bending artist’s passion for music brought them into it.

To kick off Pride season, Wreckno will headline Ferndale Pride on June 1 with, of course, an electrifying performance but also one that is, for the 27-year-old queer rapper, producer and DJ, personally meaningful. These last couple of years have been significant for Wreckno. In addition to playing at big festivals like Bonnaroo, Electric Forest and Lollapalooza, their music's also been featured in the game Fortnite and on the Peacock reboot of “Queer as Folk."

But Wreckno's musical journey began back in 2011 at the age of 15, inspired by the burgeoning electro-pop scene on mainstream radio. Together with their brother, they started creating sounds that echoed the energetic beats and catchy patterns of the genre.

“That was the first time I ever recorded, and then slowly I got super into electronic music,” Wreckno tells Pride Source. “I started DJing in 2015 and then eventually started producing and rapping. I didn't actually record it a bunch or put it into my project at all, but eventually, it gradually came together.”

Wreckno. Photo: Colin Patrick

The name Wreckno came about around the same time through performing in a high school talent show with a friend. 

“The thing we were going to do was very artsy compared to the other kids in northern Michigan,” Wreckno says. “It involved me dancing and her singing. But she came up with the idea. She was like, ‘What if we name it Wreckno?’ And from there, it became [everything from] my Tumblr URL to my Twitter handle to my whole career.” 

As a proudly queer multi-hyphenate, Wreckno is confident and colorful and, in fact, so much of who they are has been influenced by living and growing up in Michigan, from a childhood up north to living in Highland Park.

“The electronic scene in Michigan has always been pretty awesome, with techno and everything that comes from Michigan,” Wreckno says. “It was honestly just going to shows in Grand Rapids and Detroit and driving four hours there and four hours back up north for just one night of music. All of that created a very diehard energy around my passion for music where I just was like, ‘This has to be my life. I care about this so much.’ Also just growing up in the woods in Michigan, the nature Michigan has to offer, I've had so many profound moments and writing experiences in those areas, and that all definitely added to my upbringing.”

Queerness is also deeply embedded in Wreckno's music. Often mistaken for a woman rapper, Wreckno's voice, once a source of bullying, has become their signature asset. 

“[My voice] was the part of my queer self that just was so forthright that I couldn't even help [it],” Wreckno says. “My voice has become the thing that's really helped build a career for me. So, I think whenever I rap, or whenever I perform on stage, in drag, or anything like that, it's all very connected with my queerness. I started putting makeup on and stuff when I was 15 in a really small town, so now that I get to put that part of myself out there, it's kind of like that kid who was 15 putting makeup on in their small town finally has the acceptance that they always wanted. That definitely is a big part of my music.”

Recently, Wreckno was on a mental health retreat, a much-needed R&R break after “touring for what feels like three years straight.” While staying balanced can be difficult to achieve living a busy musician life, some ways that Wreckno stays mindful is by practicing sobriety and exercising. 

“Tour life, when you first start, if you don't really have the outlook of ‘this is a job,’ it can quickly just become a nonstop, never-ending party,” Wreckno says. “My next EP is called ‘Party Girl’ because my life has been so influenced by my job, which is just a party every night, and finding balance is really just when you come home and when you're just yourself, doing the things that are going to heal you and take care of the person who's not on stage, whether that be nutrition or exercise or just doing things that you enjoy that have nothing to do with music. That, as well as a great support system around you, and you'll be great.”

Ferndale Pride marks Wreckno's first post-tour show, and they are excited to showcase their new choreography close to home. 

“I played Motor City Pride two years ago, which is where I debuted my choreography, and it's kind of just another affirmation — it's very reaffirming for me of the work that I've done as a musician,” Wreckno says. “ I did a lot of work in a straight scene, electronic music, but I always wanted to be accepted in the queer scene — I just wanted to be able to play Prides. I wanted to be able to be at places that were for queer Pride and it's just another amazing part of my life. That's just a blessing, and it means so much to me.”

Besides starting the month in Ferndale, Wreckno will be performing at New Orleans Pride and Denver Pride this summer, among many other festivals. The hometown show specifically, though, is a full-circle moment for the artist. 

“I always loved Ferndale, that was like one of the first places I ever was in a city where there was clearly rainbows. It's just like, you go down the main street, you just kind of know that this is the queer part of town,” Wreckno says. “For me, I remember going there when I was like 19 and being like, ‘Whoa, we don't have this anywhere where I’m from.’”

Other than Pride performances, Wreckno’s big goal right now is to release their upcoming “Party Girl” EP, a project that represents Wreckno's expansive artistry.

“It’s the first record deal I ever worked on. It's the first time I've ever gone to LA to work with new producers, new writers, and just really kind of having this pop star fantasy that I've always dreamt of,” Wreckno says. “It's kind of a final conglomeration of all the things we've worked toward and I'm super stoked for it.”

Though the lead single and title track for “Party Girl” will be released alongside a music video on June 7, Ferndale Pridegoers will get a first listen. When their empowered choreo lands dramatically on that stage, Wreckno hopes to see a sea of people being "their most authentic selves."

“I hope they feel comfortable in their own skin, safe to express themselves, to dance without judgment or worry or fear of other people judging them,” Wreckno says. “Just expect a pussy-popping good time.”